Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Muddy Banks - Michael S. Begnal - Sabotage review



 Here's a short review I wrote of the above chapbook by the wonderfully talented Michael S. Begnal, it was published by Sabotage in 2016, shortly after the chapbook was published. See link below.


The Muddy Banks
Michael S. Begnal
Ghost City Press, Syracuse, NY, 2016.


There is a wonderful similitude at work between the structure of the Point Bridge in the poem 1877 Point Bridge, which opens this chapbook, and the formal composition of the poem itself which is divided into three parts, each one made up of five verses made up of 6 lines, fashioned in iambic dimeters ( two metrical feet, one stressed one unstressed ) as opposed to pentametres, the ones used traditionally in sonnets and which are double the metrical length, so five stressed and correspondingly five unstressed. And, just to add to the fun, each third part of the poem has an additional half line thrown in for good measure, almost mimicking the poem itself;

and falls

the dead bridge

in this investment

Why do poets do this to themselves, and more to the point to us the readers? Because, form ( be it the substance which surrounds us, or which we find ourselves entrapped in; our own flesh and blood, the visible bridge in front of us, or whatever surrounding geography would seem to encompass us ) is the primal substance which makes up our very lives, and from which there is no escape. Freedom is a cage. The Nazis, with particularly gruesome humour, wrought it above the gates of Auschwitz; Arbeit macht frei – work sets you free! So, all formal structure must be seen in this light, and particularly in a work of literature, for purely ontological reasons. Thus, a poet or artist who insists on using complex formal structures is sending us out a moral sign that they are concerned only in the pursuit of actual freedom; the one which offers up deliverance uniquely in the work. In other words, as with anything which is worth while pursuing, there is a struggle involved, and which is twofold. Firstly, there is the struggle of the artist to render into coherent form some kind of statement by them, I am using the term statement in its very widest terms. This struggle is then met with the  struggle of those who come after, in this case the readers, in an attempt to comprehend what it is in fact the writer of the piece is attempting to achieve, if indeed anything! The impetus of pleasure, and pleasure alone, must not be ruled out, when considering the formal considerations taken into account, particularly when one can distinguish quite clearly, as in the case of the poems in this short work by Michael S. Begnal, the pleasure which the poet himself enjoys in the construction of their edifice.

What great portcullis-like
iron lattice-work towers
stood as cathedral spires
at both banks,

So opens the opening poem, the enjambment continuing on down until the 18th line, punctuating finally the question:

what great steel beams
suspended the span

clocks in towers
high above barges of coal,
cables hanging down in
graded decreasing lengths,
down, then moving up again
to the towers of the black bridge?


The run on lines causing a freeze frame in the descriptor, echoing the visible 'bridge suspended in smoke and haze', and also perfectly freezing the creative movement of the mind of the artist/poet.

Of course, being an artist concerned with themes such as human freedom, yet working within the constraints of formal literary structures, Begnal allows himself enough room to diverge from the rigidity of counting iambs. He is, after all, a poet not a bean counter. So, the formal constraints, as with everything, must be understood metaphorically not literally, and this is when a truly democratic appreciation of the notion of freedom must be understood. Indeed, if art and literature have any great moral truth to impart on us, as some people would like to think that they have still, is it not exactly this; that when form and content are working in almost complete accordance with one another, as in the poem 1877 Point Bridge by Michael S. Begnal, then this is exactly the kind of exercise, through the formal structural play on the constraints, that the notion of flight is inserted.


Some’s sons set it
under sooty slopes,
there are forms underneath
only they are privy to,

Stumbling alliteration used as a further ploy to once again steady the reader to really read the craft of the phrasing. The very self-conscious nature of the style of the writing being in itself the game, which certain linguists would remind us is always a primal motivator for all children when they are learning language; pleasure, in a word! The babbling babble of Babel. Then pleasure becomes eroticised, as pleasure tends to invariably do, as in the final part of the poem.

Increased facilities for intercourse
and additional comforts
afforded by the erection
will undoubtedly restore good speedy
to former vitality, and
the point is enhanced

The moral tale of the poem being: as can be our lives, by such pleasurable pursuits! It’s a point all artists and poets have been making since time immemorial. Memory itself being perhaps the second motivator, after the pleasure principle, for these poems are thick with it, and once again this is an ontological question, concerning as it does the case of human identity. In this particular case, the poet's own and his relation with the city of Pittsburgh.

With The Muddy Banks, the poet Michael S. Begnal goes on to further explore some of the former denizens of his home city, including the poet Haniel Long, a poet whom Begnal has made a particular study of. [i] Long, a poet of the thirties who was a poet of engagement,  acts as a catalyst for the poet to explore contemporary issues in the US, eternal themes such as discrimination, poverty- both intellectual as well as financial- and the ever widening divide of those who have, and those who do not. Begnal’s poems are timely!   





[i] Begnal, S. Michael: Haniel Long’s Pittsburgh’s Memoranda- Documentary Form and 1930’s Political Poetry, College Literature, Volume 42, No. 1, winter 2015, pp.139-166.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

all things full of gods










all things full of gods


In this paper I will be looking at the appearance of a pair of common house flies in the latter section of Comment c’est/How It Is and show how they, far from being an isolated occurrence, are, like the appearance of Heraclitus in part 1, a recurring obsession in the works of Samuel Beckett, first appearing in two poems during the early thirties. But, before tracing briefly a short history of flies and their appearance as motifs in classical antiquity, I will then explore their appearance in Ulysses by James Joyce, and how, similar to Beckett, they would appear to be avatars of demise in affairs of the heart, unlike in antiquity where they were potent symbols of virility. This will lead me to explore the poem Alba written by Beckett for Ethna MacCarthy, with whom Beckett worked alongside of in Trinity College, both sharing a love of Occitan poetry. Ethna MacCarthy is major figure in Beckett’s life, his first love, by all accounts, and his lifelong relationship with her, I will be claiming, has huge significance in the composition of Comment C’est/How It Is. He started working on the novel only months before she died. This is an area which is seldom explored by scholars of Beckett, Love, with a capital L, and Beckett’s own romantic attachments. It is, I will be positing in this paper, the central theme of Beckett’s most seldom explored and so misunderstood work Finally, I shall be making reference to the poetry of Arnault Daniel, and the reference to octosyllables in Commnet c’est/How It Is which will take us on to Aristophanes, Plato and the idea of sissiparity which features so significantly in Beckett’s final take on the novel.    

The appearance of a pair of houseflies in part two of Comment c’est/How It Is should come as no surprise, as it is not the first time that Samuel Beckett was to write of such creatures. As far back as the composition of  Serena I  (1932), on a brief stop over in Dublin after a period of wandering in London[1], the poem, which is based on Provençal Troubador evening poems according to the notes compiled by the author and James Knowlson [2], ends with the following lines.

my brother the fly
the common housefly
sidling out of darkness into light
fastens on his place in the sun
whets his six legs
revels in his planes his poisers
it is the autumn of his life
he could not serve typhoid and mammon

Written in French, some years later, just before the war, Beckett returned again to the theme of the fly, this time writing a whole poem.

La Mouche


entre la scène et moi
la vitre
vide sauf elle

ventre à terre
sanglée dans ses boyaux noirs
antennes affolées ailes liées
pattes crochues bouche suçant à vide
sabrant l’azur s’écrasant contre l’invisible
sous mon pouce impuissant elle fait chavirer
la mer et le ciel serein

The Fly

enter the scene and I
the pane
empty but for her

belly to the earth
her black guts bloody
antenna crazed wings stuck together
legs claw-like mouth sucking at the void
slashing at the azure crushed against the invisible
impotent upon my thumb she capsizes
the sea and the sky both serene[3]
 
The attention to detail, life’s minutiae, is what is arresting. Knowlson makes the point that during the period when Beckett wrote Serena I ,for example, he was spending a lot of time in the British museum where he would have come into contact with numerous exhibits of flies, particularly coming from ancient Egypt, where they were venerated as symbols of fertility[4].

without the grand old British Museum
Thales and the Aretino
on the backroom of the Regent’s Park the phlox
crackles under the thunder
scarlet beauty in our world dead fish adrift
all things full of gods
pressed down and bleeding[5]

Curious to see the reference to a creature ‘pressed down and bleeding’ in the last line which echoes the plight and description of the fly written some years later.

To return to the flies, and the reference to ‘the gods in all things’, Pausanias in his Description of Ancient Greece makes two references to flies when sacrifices were being made  to the gods and how sometimes they would kill a second animal as an offering to what was known as ‘Shoo Fly Zeus’, or Myiakores, in an attempt to keep the marauding flies away from the principal sacrifice to Zeus himself, and no doubt their own food. So, already we have references  to both sex and death, in relation to house flies in classical antiquity. Let us move on now to Joyce and Ulysses, and particularly in the Lestrygonian chapter in Davey Byrnes pub.

Stuck on the pane the two flies buzzed, stuck.[6]

Leopold Bloom is contemplating his entire relationship with his wife Molly, who unknown to him is having an affair with Blazes Boylan. The scene that Joyce depicts is particularly poignant, as while the two flies are making love on the wing, in front of the solitary and despondent Bloom, the entire pub is aware of his predicament and some of the patrons are cruelly mocking him. It is a form of crucifixion, in that the principal character is being ridiculed so publicly. It must have resonated particularly with Beckett, at the time, as during the nineteen twenties, after the books publication ( 1922), Beckett was a young student completely ‘besotted’ ( Knowlson ) by a young woman called Ethna MacCarthy. The year is 1930-1, Knowlson has the following to say on Beckett’s relations with her at this time.

Occasionally he saw Con Leventhal with whom he became increasingly
friendly with at the time. He also saw Ethna MacCarthy. But seeing her
becoming emotionally involved with Con inflicted sharp stabs of pain on
his bruised and still tender ego. In August 1931, he wrote two of his most
beautiful poems, inspired by his love for Ethna. [7] 

One of the poems in question is Alba, which means dawn in Italian. I shall quote it in full.

before morning you shall be here
and Dante and the Logos and all strata and mysteries
and the branded moon
beyond the white plain of music
that you shall establish here before morning

grave suave singing silk
stoop to the black firmament of areca
rain on the bamboos flower of smoke alley of willows

who though you stoop with fingers of compassion
to endorse the dust
shall not add to your bounty
whose beauty shall be the sheet before me
a statement of itself drawn across the tempest of emblems
so that there is no sun and no unveiling
and no host
only I and then the sheet
and bulk dead

The notes to the poem, made with the authorisation of the author, state first that the poem, like Serena I is based on a Provencal model, and secondly it explains that alba is the dawn which lovers dread, ‘as they must separate when it breaks.[8]’ The correspondence with Provencal poetry is the next subject which I should like to treat here, as it is something which Beckett shared with Ethna MacCarthy, both of them having studied the subject at Trinity College together. So, to see a reference to octosyllables some thirty years later, as with the reference to Heraclitus, in part 2 of Comment C’est/How It Is is surely a point of interest, yet particularly when we see a similar returning to the subject, and even in stylistic treatment, of the flies. But firstly to the octosyllables.

moi rien seulement dis ceci dis cela ta vie là-haut TA VIE un temps ma
vie LA-HAUT un temps long là-haut DANS LA dans la LUMIERE un temps
lumière sa vie là-haut dans la lumière octosyllable presque à tout pren-
dre un hasard[9] 

I nothing only say this say that your life above YOUR LIFE pause my
life ABOVE long pause above IN THE in the LIGHT pause light his life
above in the light almost an octosyllable come to think of it a coinci-
dence

What is the significance of this, the reference to the octosyllable?

 Octosyllabic verse is most immediately identified with Provencal poetry of the 11th and 12th centuries in the south of France in what was/is known as Occitania, and whose poetry is referred to as Occitan/Ocitan or simply Langue d’Oc, or language of Oc Interestingly, when Beckett was on the run from the Gestapo, for his involvement with the Gloria cell of the French resistance in 1941, it was to the region known as Languedoc- Rousillon, still known today as Occitanie. Coincidence?

Provencal poetry, Langue d'Oc if you will, is associated with courtly love, and the love poetry written by the Troubadours who were given sanctuary by the local Princes, many of whom had associations with the crusades. Arnault Daniel is one of the most famous of them, the one who is famously mentioned by Dante in Canto 26 of Purgatorio. Here is an example of an octosyllabic verse by Arnault Daniel, as might have been heard in the court at the time, typically it speaks of a great love.

Anc iev non l’aic mes elha m’a
Totz temps en son poder amors
e fai’m irat let, savi fol
cum selhui qu’en re nos torna,

I never held it but it holds me
All the time in its bail, Love,
And makes me glad in anger, fool in wisdom
as one who never can fight back [10]

In an amazing example of such Love, Beckett would remain friends with Con Leventhal and Ethna MacCarthy, who eventually married, throughout their lives and he would visit Ethna in her flat on Lower Bagott Street at her request only eighteen months from her death. She died on May 25th 1959. He was in deep distress. Incidentally, some months before she died, he was already at work on Comment C’est/How It Is.  There is no question in my mind that the reference to Arnault Daniel and the langue d’Oc is an evocation of his first love.

Now, before I return to Arnault Daniel, and the other side to his writings, I should first like to revisit the flies, as I should like to compare a fragment from Comment C’est/How It Is with the poems referencing the flies already treated. As I am going to treat all five fragments, I shall only give them in English here.

E then good and deep sick of light quick now the end above last thing
last sky that fly perhaps gliding on the pane the counterpane all sum-
mer before it or noonday glory of colours behind the pane in the
mouth of the cave and the approaching veils[11]

The reference to a cave is interesting, particularly in the context of Vico, and the further reference to Homer which appears nine fragments later ‘homer mauve light of evening’ (p.115). For Vico, as for Plato, the cave is synonymous with the giant Polyphemus who is the Cyclops whom Odysseus had blinded in order to escape from the cannibalistic giant, along with his men, caves being places of refuge for the giants where they used to sleep and store their stolen hordes.

two veils from left to right they approach come together or one
down the other up or aslant diagonal from left or right top corner right
or left bottom corner one two three and four they approach come
together

Notice the flies, as with the humans, in Comment C’est/How It Is appear in fours, and would appear to suffer similar geometric logistical patterns of movement/behaviour. Is it any wonder than that three fragments before the appearance of the flies the theme of madness is evoked. ‘the essential nay folly I hear it murmur it to the mud folly folly stop your drivel draw the mud about your face children do it in the sand’ ( p.113)

a first pair then others on top as many times as necessary or a first one
two three or four a second two three four or one a third three four one
or two a fourth four one two or three as many times as necessary

for what for to be happy eyes starting pupils starting night in the midst
of day better the fly at break of morn four o’ clock five o’ clock the sun
rises its day begins the fly we’re talking of a fly its day its summer on
the pane the counterpane its life last thing last sky

And this last fragment then in French.

pour quoi pour être heureux pour que les yeux dilate les prunelles il
fasse en plein jour nuit plutôt la mouche de bon matin quatres heures
cinq heures le soleil se lève sa journée commence la mouche on parle
d’une mouche sa jounée son étè sur la vitre le drap sa vie dernière
chose dernier ciel
It is particularly in the last three lines.

la mouche on parle
d’une mouche sa jounée son étè sur la vitre le drap sa vie dernière
chose dernier ciel

we’re talking of a fly its day its summer on
the pane the counterpane its life last thing last sky

If we return to the poem La Mouche we are revisiting very old ground, yet again. The death of a life, a flie’s, the death of a love, a human’s. For the gods, it would appear to be the very same thing. Is this not a profoundly Greek idea, on mortality, and the poignancy of life that was further echoed in the fly text by Joyce in Ulysses?

Glowing wine on his palete lingered swallowed. Crushing in the
winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch
telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden
under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The Sky.
The bay purple by the Lion’s head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen
towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried
cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub
my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. Oh wonder! Cool soft with
ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn
away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips open, kissed her mouth. Yum.
Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish
pulp her mouth had mumbled sweetsour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy.
Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips.
Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still.
A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking
surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under her ferns she laughed
warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched
neck beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples
upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed
my hair. Kisssed, she kissed me.
Me. And me now.
Stuck, the flies buzzed. [12]


There is a fragment in part 2 Comment c’est / How It Is which is almost ekphrastic, in the sense that it is an image which has been fabricated with the help of a precedent, although in this case the precedent is not a painted image but rather an image created from another text written over 2 500 years ago in ancient Greece. But first, here is the fragment from Comment c’est followed by the author’s translation from How It Is.

tête contre tête fatalement mon épaule droite
ayant grimpé sur ca gauche à lui j’ai le dessus
partout mais contre comment comme deux vieux
canassons attelés ensemble non mais la mienne ma
téte la face dans la boue la sienna sur la joue droite
sa bouche contre mon oreille nos poils emmêlés
impression que pour nous séparer il aurait fallu
les trancher bon voila pour les corps les bras les
mains les têtes ( p.116 )

heads together necessarily my right shoulder overriding his left
I’ve the upper everywhere but how together like two old jades
harnessed together no but mine my head its face in the mud and
his its right cheek in the mud his mouth against my ear our hairs
tangled together impression that to separate us one would have
to sever them good so much the bodies the arms the hands
the heads ( p.79 )

The violence of the image, or thought, of severing the bodies, in order to separate them is very arresting. So much so that it recalls the myth of Otys and Ephialtes as told by Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium. The mythical hermaphroditic giants who were so powerful that they decided to crawl on top of each other to form a chain and assail the gods in Olympus, so that Zeus, having finally subdued them, decided to cleave them in two, thus separating the giants into two beings with two distinct sexes, and hurling them apart into different places on the earth, so that they were condemned to wander, like us humans, constantly striving for their ‘other half’[13].

Indeed, the idea of severing is taken up later on in part 3 apres Pim/after Pim with the extraordinary turn of phrase ‘latrinal scissiparous frenzy’ (frag. 61, part 3), or ‘latrine frénésie scissipare’ . Scissiparity, or scissiparous, derive from the verb scission, meaning to divide or split ( OED). So, this idea of splitting the couples is quite central in Comment c’est/How It Is, and it is not asking too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that Plato’s Symposium is the possible origin of the idea. Interestingly, Ephialtes and ‘Outis’ pop up also in Finnegans Wake in part 3 of Book 3[14], which is also given over to reason in Vico’s three ages.   

But there is more. The phrase ‘Dieu sur Dieu’ ( Frag. 139, part 2), ‘God on God’, evokes Ganymede and Zeus, for example. But in the context of Comment c’est/How It is, with its grotesque sexual humour, it brings to mind ancient Greek satyr play which playfully used mythical creatures, such as gods, in compromising sexual situation. Take Euripides Cyclops, for example, the only remaining satyr play in existence, in which the god of the satyrs, Silenus, is caught by Polyphemus, the head of the Cyclops, the famous one-eyed giants, and a subsequent comic farce ensues in which Odysseus appears, having supplied the Cyclops with wine, parodying the original story as told by Homer, and Silenus pleads with Polyphemus to spare him. [15]     


ODYSSEUS
Here, take and drink it off; leave none. Thou must be silent and only give in when the liquor does.

CYCLOPS
God wot! it is a clever stock that bears the grape.

ODYSSEUS
Aye, and if thou but swallow plenty of it after a plentiful meal, moistening thy belly till its thirst is gone, it will throw thee into slumber; but if thou leave aught behind, the Bacchic god will parch thee for it.

CYCLOPS
Ha! ha! what a trouble it was getting out! This is pleasure unalloyed; earth and sky seem whirling round together; I see the throne of Zeus and all the godhead's majesty. Kiss thee! no! There are the Graces trying to tempt me. I shall rest well enough with my Ganymede here; yea, by the Graces, right fairly; for I like lads better than the wenches.

SILENUS
What! Cyclops, am I Ganymede, Zeus's minion?

CYCLOPS attempting to carry him into the cave
To be sure, Ganymede whom I am carrying off from the halls of Dardanus.

SILENUS
I am undone, my children; outrageous treatment waits me.

LEADER OF THE CHORUS
Dost find fault with thy lover? dost scorn him in his cups?

SILENUS
Woe is me! most bitter shall I find the wine ere long.


Euripides wrote The Cyclops in the last years of his life, when the young Plato would have been in his twenties. For Mark David Usher, ‘An awareness of the extent of Plato’s use and adaption of Satyr lore in the Symposium is essential for a full appreciation of his philosophy of love, his technique as writer, and the purpose of the dialogue.’[16] Samuel Beckett, arguably the twentieth century’s most iconic dramatist, was more than aware of both the works of Plato and Euripides and the tradition of Satyr play with its emphasis on the grotesque sexual element which existed in ancient Greek humour, so it really does not take much stretch of the imagination to imagine that he was in some way influenced by such literary precedents, though to what degree we shall probably never be able to ascertain. However, the altogether modern staging of the couples in the novel, whether it is Pim and Bom, or Bom and Bim, brings another layer of sophistication to the text, and there are a number of signs which lead me to believe that on top of the early Greek insertions, borrowed from Plato ( Aristophanes ) and Euripides are the further presence of Hegel, and in particular his celebrated Master & Servant dialectic which appears in The Phenomenology of Mind. Why? Fragments 283 - 286 in part 3 after Pim, I believe, offer a clue.

if it will kindly be considered that while it is in our interests as tor-
metors to remain where we are as victims our urge is to move on

and that of these two aspirations warring in each heart it would be
normal for the latter to triumph if only narrowly

for as we have seen in the days that word again of journeys and aban-
dons a most remarkable thing when you come to think of it only the
victims journeyed

the tormentors as though struck numb with stupor instead of giving
chase right leg right arm push pull ten yards fifteen yards lying where
abandoned penalty perhaps of their recent exertions but effect also of
our justice[17]

So, we can see that the ‘victim’ in Comment C’est How It Is just like Hegel’s servant, or Bondsman, in that the ‘Master and Bondsman Dialectic’ is more dependent, or free, than the ‘ Master’[18]or ‘Tormentor’. Karl Marx famously used Hegel’s dialectic to formulate his ideas on communism which Beckett watched with a keen curiosity throughout his life.[19] Indeed, the names Bim & Bom are synonymous with Stalin’s Russia, as they were well known clowns who were extremely popular in communist Russia during the nineteen thirties[20]. Of course, the elaborate, to the point of grotesque farce, formulations of statistics constantly being referred to, particularly in part 3, of Comment c’est How It Is are particularly apt and mocking when one considers the fact that Stalin himself wrote his own interpretation of Hegel’s celebrated dialectic,  a fact which would not have gone unnoticed by the ever attentive Beckett.   

Finally, to return Ethna MacCarthy, provencal poets, and in particular Arnault Daniel. How did the author of a poem like Alba end up writing a novel like Comment Cest/How It Is? One might rephrase the question, how does a poet go from intense romance to vitriolic satire? Let us take the case of Arnault Daniel, as I have made reference already to his other side. While troubadour poets were being patronised by wealthy princes to write compositions for them on elevated subjects such as courtly love, they would also write less elevated pieces for the ears of the locals down in the local tavern, sometimes deriding their patrons, toppling them from their elevated positions. Satire, in short. Take the following octosyllable poem by the illustrious troubadour, adopting like Beckett, many centuries forward, ‘vast tracts of time’, a scatological tone. 

Pro hi agra d’autres assais,
De plus bels e que valgram mais,
E si en Bernartz s’en estrais,
Per Crist, anc no’I fetz que savais
Car l’en pres paors et esglais.
Car, si’ l vengues d’amon lo rais.
Tot, l’escaldera’l col e’l cais,
E no’ l’s cove que dompna bais
Aquel qui cornes corn putnais.[21]

Canello notes, in the same work, that the anus is compared in the entire poem to a trumpet, akin to Dante’s celebrated reference in Canto XXI in the Inferno .

ma prima avea ciascun la lingua stretta
coi denti verso lor duca, per cenno,
ed elli avea del cul fatto trombetta.[22]

In this text, I have tried to trace the many complex and diverse references which act as points of intersection, if you will, to Comment C’est/How It Is. The more one reads and engages with the text the more one can see ancient references, particularly ancient Greek which inform the very specific lexicon of the book, scissiparity and acerbation being but two, and in particular originating from Plato’s Symposium in which Socrates and Aristophanes speak on the subject of Love, being asked to define it. Love is the central theme to Comment C’est/How It Is,  I would argue. ‘many is the couple would be content with it see each other die without a murmur having had their fill’[23] ( Frag. 89, part 2) Taking Plato as a starting point, the idea of scissiparity which becomes so central to the novel, the popular notion of the ‘other half’, and reformulating it into the impossible numerical formulations, in the millions, creating a Dantesque vision of horror, based also on the Hegelian dialectic, invoking at the same time communism and fascism, the twentieth century’s two greatest isms, while at the same time including his own personal experience, his love of Ethna MacCarthy, recorded in the poem Alba which evokes the figure of Arnault Daniel and the troubadours of medieval France, and the notion of courtly love, chivalry, and its counterpoint, satire; all would appear to have their say in Beckett’s own epic meditation on the four letter theme, making it one of his most personal accounts, and in screaming capitals, his most violent. Ending always with the same question, since the origin, of every lover – DO YOU LOVE ME CUNT[24]. Beckett, in Comment C’est/How It Is would apparently have an answer.  ‘the less you’re there the more you’re cheerful when you’re there less tears a little less tears a little less words lacking all lacking’ ( Frag. 12, part 3), which brings us back to the mathematical formulation, or concept, of 3/4s. Three quarters way there. The sign of a human. Not quite fully there. The missing quarter. 



[1] Knowlson, James: Damned to Fame, The Life of Samuel Beckett, Bloomsbury, London, First Paperback Edition, 1997, p.162.
[2] Beckett, Samuel: Collected Poems in English & French, Grove Press, New York, No Date Given of Publication, p.22.
[3] This translation my own.
[4] For an example of the kind of exhibits on display in the British Museum at the time, see exhibit number EA54323, 15 fly amulets, acquired in 1897. See also link to British Museum:
[5] Beckett, Samuel: Collected Poems in English & French, Grove Press, New York, No Date of Publication Given, p. 21.
[7] Knowlson, James: Damned to Fame, Bloomsbury, London, First paperback edition, 1997, p.135.
[8] Beckett, Samuel: Collected Poems in English & French, Grove Press, New York, No Date of Publication Given, p. 141.
[9] Beckett, Samuel: Comment C’est How It Is and / et L’image – A Critical-Genetic Edition Une Édition Critico-Génétique, Edited by Edouard Magessa O’Reilly, Routledge,    New York, First edition in paperback 2016, pp.92-93.
[12] Joyce, James: Ulysses, Edited by Hans Walter Gabler, The Bodley Head, London, Reprint, 1993, p. 144.
[13] Beckett would appear to be alluding to this idea of Aristophanes when describing the flies crawling on top of each other in the passage already analysed in part 2, which is further echoed when he has humans do it in part 3. The term Beckett uses is ‘acervation’, indeed it is a further theme to explore in Comment C’est/How It Is and which ties up with Deleuzes’s ideas on Beckett in ‘L’epuiser’. In fragment 152, for example, in part 3:
whether four then or a million four strangers a million strangers to themselves to one another but here I quote we do not revolve’ ( p.159) or in the ‘acervation of sacks’ imagined in a fragment further on, again in part 3,  ( fragment 246) in which ‘a mountain of sacks’ ( fragment 243) are conjured of the million conjured. 

[14] Joyce, James: Finnegans Wake, Wordsworth Classics, London, 2012.
[15] Euripides: The Cyclops, Translated by E. P. Coleridge.
[16] Usher, M.D: Satyr Play in Plato’s Symposium, American Journal of Philology, John Hopkins University Press, Volume 123, Number 2, ( Whole Number 490 ) Summer 2002, pp.205-223.
[17] Beckett, Samuel: Comment C’est How It Is and / et L’image, A Critical-Genetic Edition Une Édition Critico-Génétique, Edited by Edourad Magessa O’Reilly, Routledge, New York & London, First Paperback Edition, 2016, p.187.
[18] “The truth of the independent consciousness is accordingly the consciousness of the bondsman. This doubtless appears in the first instance outside itself, and not as the truth of self-consciousness. But just as lordship showed its essential nature to be the reverse of what it wants to be, so, too, bondage will, when completed, pass into the opposite of what it immediately is: being a consciousness repressed within itself, it will enter into itself, and change round into real and true independence.”
[19] Scott Eric Hamilton: Marxism and Irish Communism in Beckett’s More Pricks than Kicks, Samuel Beckett Today/ Aujourd’hui, Volume 27, Issue 1, pages 211-223, 2015. 
[20] Bim and Bom were founded originally in 1905, the duo consisting of Semenovich Radunsky as Bim and various individuals playing Bom. There was a near arrest in 1918, during the Bolshevik revolution. But, after splitting up Radunsky revived the duo in 1925 with Nikolai Viltsak playing the new Bom and they both went onto being awarded the Honoured Artists of the Soviet Union Award in 1939. See-
[21] Lavaud, R: Les Poesies D’arnaut Daniel, Líbraire de l’université de Tolouse, l’edition critique italienne donnée en 1883 par A-V Canello ( La vita e le opera del trovatore Arnaldo Daniello, Halle, 1883), 1910, pp.8-9.
A modern French version of the above verse is printed alongside in the above cited work, and which is the following: ‘ Il y aura bien assez d’autres épreuves, de plus belles et qui veudront d’advantage, et si Seigneur Bernart s’est soustrait á celle-lá, par le Christ, il n’a pas un instant agi en lâche pour avoir été pris de peur et d’effroi. Car si le filet d’eau était venu d’en haut sur lui, il lui aurait échaudé entiérment le cou et le joue, et il ne convient pas ensuite qu’une dame baise celui qui aurait corné dans une tropette puante.’

[23] bien des couples s’en contenteraient se verraient mourir sans une palinte ayant eu leur compte’ There have been many cmmentators who have made reference to Maldoror, in relation to CC/HII, this aphorism strikes me as being particularly reminiscent of Lautrémont/ Isidore Ducasses.
[24]  Beckett, Samuel:  Comment C’est/How It Is and/ et L’image, A Critical-Genetic Edition/ Une Édition Critico-Génétique, Edited by Edouard Magessa O’Reilly, Routledge, New York, p.125.